Benjamin Javitz - Authorbenjamin.email@example.com
“I can't understand why most of the articles are in English. I am completely uninterested in reading articles written by Swedes studying at a Swedish university if they are not in Swedish.“
I was quite positively surprised when I started going through the results of our Reader’s Survey - 154 of you answered and gave us tips, suggestions and ideas. Most of all we could estimate, for the first time since 2018, how many of you actually read Osqledaren. While it is obvious that students who actually read OL are overrepresented in our numbers (and we did try to counteract this by advertising the survey in Nymble and the THS newsletter), only 10% of the respondents said they never read OL at all. Over 50% of you say that they read at least one article fully and 85% would miss OL at least a little bit if it disappeared.
When I stumbled across the comment above however, I had to think about a response. To me, having most articles in OL in English meant adding accessibility for international students, not losing Swedish readers. In this and in countless other situations on campus and at THS it becomes obvious that the question of Swedish vs. English, national vs. international is anything but solved. Let’s keep going with numbers here: more than one third of new students this year are international; KTH currently has 30-40% international students; and over 70% of KTH students are already studying in English or are in a program that will include a master taught in English (based on KTHs yearly report)!
I (as an international student myself, who can read and write and understand Swedish nonetheless) could obviously react to this with “Well, you all understand English, right? Why not just have all articles in English then?”. But it’s way more complicated than that. Is it actually clear and obvious that THS (and that means not only THS Central, but the chapters, the restaurant, the bookstore, all of “One THS”) wants to integrate international students as much as possible?
There is no universal governing document on internationalization at THS. Yes, some things like summons have to be made available in English. Yes, THS is the student union for ALL students at KTH, which implies that everything we do is to benefit both national and international students. But no, there is no "clear plan on how chapters and THS Central can better include international students" (THS Operational Plan 2019).
What does reality look like then? Unlike some of you, my best friends in Stockholm haven’t been with me since high school - their names are rather Google Translate and DeepL. I lost count of how many times I’ve clicked on a British flag, I know exactly where to look for “This page in English”, some of the first Swedish words I learned were "Senaste Canvas-aviseringarna", and my muscle-memory naturally scrolls a bit further down everywhere, suspecting that I’ll find, as always, “English below”.
And when none of the information you need is in a language you fully, easily and comfortably understand, you have to ask. You have to push and keep pushing and be as annoying as you can, until you get what you think you deserve, right? “Hey, I know you really want to enjoy this, but I’m gonna make you speak a different language now”, I find myself demanding of other guests next to me at a gasque, even though that feels like the most uncomfortable and rude thing I could ever do to another human being. When people get a bit tipsy, that gets even harder. And even though “we” like to laugh it off and make jokes about it and suddenly start speaking German or Portuguese to make our Swedish friends realize, it’s really difficult. The same exhausted sigh, the same resignation about the fact that “we” will never truly be a part of the real Swedish student life unless we become fluent in this new and complicated language.
Where do we even go from here? There is not and there will never be a perfect solution, unless we all agree to speak the same language, to use the same language, one that we all speak - so again, everything in English? No. There would be a lot of students, and rightly so, that feel ignored. Students that feel just as awkward speaking English as I do with my broken Swedish. At the same time, traditions are often built on language, and it is not a solution to translate every song, event or joke either. And if we’re really being honest, that’s never going to happen anyway. The best way forward then is to be compassionate, to listen to each other and communicate, to understand each other’s experience.
That’s why I want there to be a dialogue, a debate about the ways and languages we use to connect - in the form of articles here, but I also want to encourage you to connect to each other! Talk to your international friends about their experience, ask your Swedish classmates for advice and tips, ask them to take you to chapter events, encourage (or demand!) your teacher to give information about your exam in a language everyone understands. And if that means saying everything twice like the safety instructions on the plane I took to see my family over Christmas, so be it. Right?